As a leader, what should you do when someone thinks outside the box, ignores the rules, and solves a pressing problem for $64,450 less than expected? However you respond, don’t do what the City of Toronto just did.

Tom Riley Park is frequented daily by mothers with baby strollers, people practicing yoga, bike riders, dog walkers, and members of a community garden. Although the park has an official entrance, many people take the most direct path into the park from its parking lot, which means walking down a steep slope. Until recently, that path had only a yellow rope to hang onto to keep people from falling on their butts.

That seemed unsatisfactory to Adi Astl, a retired mechanic in the neighborhood who uses the community garden along with his wife. He contacted the city about installing a stairway in that spot and was told the estimated cost to the city of such a project would be between $65,000 and $150,000. For approximately eight steps.

That didn’t seem very reasonable to Astl, and he decided there must be a better way. So he took up a collection around the neighborhood, hired a homeless man to help with the construction, and built a simple but serviceable wooden stairway for a grand total of $550. Cost to the city: $0.

Problem solved?

That seems like it should have been a happy ending, but the city promptly put up yellow tape around Astl’s stairway and declared it unsafe. City officials also told Astl he had violated a bylaw by building it. It made plans to tear down the stairway, although people were still using it, tape or no tape.

Why did the city close down the stairway? “Liability issues,” a local reporter was told by city officials. It’s worth noting that many people had fallen down the path before the stairs were built and one community garden member broke her wrist there. It seems clear the stairs are a lot safer than the former path, even if they lack a foundation and were not built to code.

However that former path was safer for the city, in that if someone got hurt and filed a lawsuit, it could defend itself by saying the path was never meant to be used. It appears Toronto was indeed concerned about liability, and not at all concerned about actual safety.

But then something wonderful happened: A local TV station showed up, flew a chopper over the stairs, and made the whole story very public. After that the city changed its mind. It now says it is committed to working with Astl’s stairway and will find ways to bring it up to city safety standards.

So the story does have a happy ending after all. But you have to wonder what would have happened if the TV cameras hadn’t arrived.

But wait, there’s more. This story just gets more asinine each day.

It really becomes difficult to decide who the biggest fool(s) is/are in this story. You have a choice of the mayor/bureaucracy, the reporter or the do-gooder twitterer. All involved seem to have forgotten certain things; the people accessing the park were either  taking their chances on the slope or using a rope tied to the guard rail fence previously and everyone seems to think that since it only going to cost $10k (that’s a lie, I’d bet you it ends up costing 3 times that) now that that is chump change and it is all good. So good that I’ll wager the mayor believes he just saved the city $140,000, the reporter believes she actually did her job and the twitterer believes she has save the lives of countless victims who are not bright enough to negotiate a set of wooden stairs rather than a rope.

Toronto tears down elderly man’s $550 staircase, promises to build new one for $10K

The city’s original cost estimate of up to $150,000 to build stairs to a park was ‘absolutely ridiculous and out of whack with reality,’ the mayor said

Adi Astl at the top of the staircase he built and the city has removed as of Friday morning in Tom Riley Park, near Islington Ave. and Bloor St. W. in Toronto, Ont. Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

Toronto city workers tore down a controversial wooden staircase on Friday morning after it sparked a debate about “ridiculous” infrastructure costs.

A 73-year-old retired mechanic built the wooden staircase that led from a public parking lot on Bloor Street into Tom Riley Park in Toronto’s west end after the city estimated that the project would cost between $65,000 and $150,000.

Adi Astl visits the park every day with his partner, Gail Rutherford. He said he was tired of seeing his neighbours injure themselves going down a steep hill into the park that hosts a community garden.

He thought the city’s estimate was “just not right,” so he decided to build the stairs himself. The were constructed in a single day, on June 22, with the help of a homeless man he hired. It all cost just $550.

Astl said the response to his makeshift staircase was overwhelmingly positive, and people started using them immediately. But someone called the city to complain and inspectors quickly arrived to tape off the “unsafe” steps. The decision divided the city — and Mayor John tory was forced to respond to the controversy.

“The original cost estimate by the City of Toronto to build stairs in Tom Riley Park was absolutely ridiculous and out of whack with reality,” the mayor said in a statement released Friday morning. The stairs were gone by 9 a.m.

The original cost estimate by the City of Toronto to build stairs in Tom Riley Park was absolutely ridiculous and out of whack with reality

Mayor John Tory

Tory promised to work towards finding better ways for the city to fund necessary projects within a reasonable budget, so that this never happens again.

“I’m not happy that these kinds of outrageous project cost estimates are even possible,” he said. “I want to thank Mr. Astl for taking a stand on this issue. His homemade steps have sent a message that I know city staff have heard loud and clear.”

Etobicoke-Lakeshore Coun. Justin Di Ciano said that a new set of stairs will be constructed by the end of next week.

Di Ciano said he got emails from people across the city who supported Astl’s initiative, but “we knew we we’re going to have liability issues so we tore down the stairs — and Adi knew that.”

Astl’s staircase just didn’t live up to Toronto’s building standards.

Coun. Justin DiCiano sits on the staircase the city has since removed, leading down to Tom Riley Park, near Islington Ave. and Bloor St. W. Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

The new stairs “will be designed to pass code and will be up to municipal standards and last probably 20 to 30 years,” Di Ciano said.

They are expected to cost $10,000 — a fraction of the original estimate.

“We need to begin delivering value to residents and we’re not doing that,” Di Ciano said. “This is a major eye-opener for city staff and for councillors.”

As the city debated whether or not the city should tear down Astl’s stairs, local resident Shannon McKarney went to investigate his handiwork and pointed out a slew of safety hazards on Twitter. She said she often visits the park and agreed with the city’s decision to remove the “death trap” stairs.

The stairs were just sitting on the hill — and not anchored to anything.

After significant rainfall on July 20, she tweeted that the stairs were “as slick as ice.” They were also crooked and the wood was not sanded.

They weren’t easy to access — people had to climb over a fence in the parking lot.

And there were some awkward gaps between the wood.

“I would definitely support having a proper staircase put in there,” McKarney said in an e-mail.